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We Can Be Happy Underground

Alfred Ely Beach's Pneumatic Subway

From the “Further Readings” section at the back of Paul Collin’s wonderful Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change The World:

There is one very simple way to see what Beach’s railway [19th century New York's secret, unfinished pneumatic subway] looked like, and blown up far larger than any plate in this book could manage. Go to a Subway shop–the fast-food chain, you know, where you can buy a six-inch Cold Cut Trio?–and lo! Pasted upon the walls are pictures of Beach’s invention. Whoever was designing the chainwide decor for Subway simply clipped out a bunch of old public-domain illustrations of subways, including three that originally ran in Scientific American in the 1870s. Look for the pictures that depict an almost perfectly round (save for a slight groove in the bottom) brick-lined subway tunnel, and a rounded subway car interior. These are Beach’s own handpicked illustrations for what was to be an ultra-million-dollar venture. Graze pensively on your Baked Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips. Ponder the vagaries of ambition.

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The City and The City

O. Henry, “The Duel” (1910):

Your opponent is the City. You must do battle with it from the time the ferry-boat lands you on the island until either it is yours or it has conquered you. The battle is to decide whether you shall become a New Yorker or turn the rankest outlander and Philistine. You must be one or the other. You cannot remain neutral.

John Berger, “Keeping a Rendezvous” (1987):

Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.

To which some droll New Yorker replied: “Albany is an old man in a deli, trying to send back soup.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad Axe” (1856):

The great city is that which has the greatest men and women. If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the whole world.

All yoinked from the most recent Lapham’s Quarterly.

London, Ontario is of course a student with Ugg boots and big sunglasses. (I kid because I love.)